What is it about?

------------------------ Research Focus ------------------------ The extant scholarship on management and organizational paradox has long been looking for approaches that integrate the paradox notion into corporate activities and managerial decision-making foundations. Our article's main contribution is putting the notion of paradox into the very centre of organizational life and managerial decision-making. We do so by anchoring the field in three interrelated conceptual approaches which build on paradox as paradigmatic departure point. Relating to the traditional Indian logical construct of tetralemma, we show that paradox constitutes organizational identity as it draws distinctions in the environment. Paradox manifests in commucation organizational decision acts and their process of the continual vanishing and renewal of these acts.

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Why is it important?

------------------------------------------------------- Contribution to Academic Scholarship ------------------------------------------------------- In this conceptual piece, we broaden our understanding of organizational paradox by elaborating on the traditional Indian logical construct of tetralemma as an expansive encasement strategy. While a significant amount of research has been carried out to grasp paradox, it does not fully capture this complex concept's full diversity and implications. We address this shortcoming by developing a conceptual anchor that expands and further details the emerging theory of organizational paradox and provides orientation for managers and scholars in the field. The proposed paradoxical approach to paradoxes informs the extant literature in several ways. Perhaps most obviously, it affirms the possibility that "a unified or coherent metatheory" of organizational paradoxes can be considered to be a realistic ambition for further research. We argue that this metatheory can be developed based on inspirations for which the notion of paradox is genuinely constitutive, which we believe to be the case with Spencer Brown's form calculus and Luhmann's systems and organization theory. Furthermore, we are hopeful that the manifold and recursive structure of the tetralemma precludes the possibility that such a metatheory may congeal into any dominant logic repressing alternative lines of conceptual development. We believe that this metatheory responds to recurrent calls for expanding the behavioural repertoire emanating from the paradoxical condition by accommodating counter-intuitive logical options which radically question the prevalent observational perspectives. This questioning is tantamount to embracing an avant-garde stance "that thrives on anti-normative moves". Finally, the proposed approach radicalizes the contribution of systems thinking to paradox research. Although the relevance of this thinking has been authoritatively established and early exemplified in works on the role of "rejection values" in "linkage institutions", we believe that the systems thinking of the Luhmannian variety can go much further in illuminating how paradoxes pervade and indeed constitute organizational realities. ------------------------------------------------------- Contribution to Management Practice ------------------------------------------------------- Our resultant conceptualisation of organisational paradox encourages practitioners to revisit the relationship of tetralemmatization to a host of the known strategies of dealing with persistent tensions and contradictions. This relationship is free of any normative biases toward both-and approaches. What is yet unknown are the specific ways in which tetralemmatization may subsume and enrich the extant classifications of the above strategies. In addition, tetralemmatization may itself be profitably applied to pressing management issues marked by the problematic prominence of painful trade-offs. One of these issues is the pervasiveness of trade-offs among stakeholder interests in settings where stakeholders could work together to create value. In these settings, there is an urgent need to move beyond the perceptions of trade-offs; but even the both-and option, evidently corresponding to the idea of the win-win constellations arising out of the jointness of stakeholder interests, may generate adverse ecological side-effects. To prevent these side-effects, the strategy of tetralemmatization is called upon to suggest radically new solutions for management practice which will cut across stakeholder theory, organization theory, and paradox studies.


Paradox is a multi-faceted concept, making it a wicked problem for managerial practice and scholarly theory. Our conceptual piece reflects important intellectual traditions for predominant practices to handle organizational paradox and provide future research avenues. We specifically buid on the tetralemma construct to suggest a comprehensive encasement strategy for paradox in practice.

Associate Professor Dirk Schneckenberg
ESC Rennes School of Business

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This page is a summary of: Approaching management and organization paradoxes paradoxically: The case for the tetralemma as an expansive encasement strategy, European Management Journal, December 2021, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.emj.2021.12.002.
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